LET’S DO BETTER
In our tribute to Bettye Jean Poignard, Lionel Richie said it best: “You’re once, twice, three times a lady,” and Fort Wayne loves you. Poignard, in her departure from this life on Thanksgiving Eve, caused most of us to reflect on her contributions personally and professionally. Former IPFW students, members of present and past not-for profit boards, Jack And Jill of America families, co-church members, former co-workers, academically challenged students, and finally Delta Sigma Theta Sorority; generally echoed the same sentiments. Poignard was indeed “a lady” and managed to be a lady throughout her life, when such a virtue unfortunately has lost it’s popularity.
Poignard, in a ladylike manner, consistently urged secondary and college students to strive for excellence. Her approach was never harsh, but direct. She was soft-spoken, but the message was loud and clear. A friend, Anna Sevier, said it this way: “Bettye didn’t care if she was liked by students, she cared if they became successful.” Thus, said the friend, “Bettye wanted to be respected by students and thus the students would believe her push for excellence was a worthwhile and attainable goal.”
Bettye was a loyal friend, mother and wife. She would greet her friends and associates with three questions: “How are you, how’s your husband, how are the kids?” And, after genuinely listening to the responses, she would proudly give a brief summary of her families status and her children’s accomplishments.
A friend, Jacqueline French, summed up her relationship with Bettye which captured the sentiments of other friends: “Bettye was my sister and my friend. She was always supportive of my endeavors. She encouraged me during difficult times, celebrated with me when things were going well and comforted me in times of need.”
Other friends spoke of Bettye’s frankness. They said she would tell you the truth about yourself and then offer her assistance to help you make necessary changes.
Bettye set the bar for fine dining and entertainment. Whether in her home, a wedding reception, a fund-raiser or in a restaurant for a celebration, if she was involved there was no time for mediocrity. Jack and Jill members will remember Bettye’s leadership in the “China Connection” fundraisers, an event that featured elaborate table settings. The same group will remember her leadership in the Cotillion, featuring “coming out” ceremonies honoring junior and senior high school females. Bettye’s expectations were loud and clear to co-volunteers assisting with events. “Since you didn’t do it right the first time, you must want to do it over.”
Some of our readers sat on boards with Bettye. Others remember her tenure as a member of the school board. Her intelligence was widely respected, her demeanor was appreciated, and again, her frankness was refreshing. Bettye was very clear about her determination for educational equality, which necessitated busing and magnet schools. She met resistance, but stuck with her position, despite political ramifications. She had a quality that some of us lack, being the ability to listen. Actually, she listened so well in board meetings, even those in disagreement felt Bettye respected their points of views.
She made personal contributions to charitable causes; the YMCA and Black College Club were two of her recipients. Bettye’s friends said she would just reach in her pocket and give and encourage others to give.
Whether Bettye was in the classroom, boardroom or dining room; there was just something about her style that was impressive even before she spoke. She would “quietly” enter a room, wearing a soft, gentle smile and conservatively, yet fashionably dressed. Sometimes a nod would serve as her “hello” greeting. She would set the tone for respect before uttering a word. Her strength was apparent. One friend described Bettye as a “strong black woman who comfortably accepted challenges.”
Speculatively, this Helene Foellinger award winning recipient left “ice packs” in the hearts of family and friends who loved her. With time, the ice will melt in various quantities. Yet, pieces of the packs will forever remain.
Bettye’s memorial services revealed how her style is appreciated. The Delta’s services were as Bettye would have desired; elegant, meaningful, timely and well presented. The church services were serene; with calming music and speakers who respected conciseness.
Bettye has left a remarkable legacy. Our job is, to the best of our own abilities, make similar contributions in our communities.
Lionel Richie can best give our final tribute to Bettye:
“Thanks for the times that you’ve given us. The memories are all in our minds. And, now that we’ve come to the end of our rainbow, there’s something we must say out loud. You’re once, twice, three times a lady, and we love you.”